SVGTU: What laws did Otto Sam break?
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May 31, 2013

SVGTU: What laws did Otto Sam break?

The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) would like to know which law was broken, resulting in one of its members being fired from the public service.{{more}}

At a press conference on Wednesday, Union president Oswald Robinson asked for evidence that one of its members, Otto Sam, broke the law, seeing that the law preventing teachers from speaking out in public has been repealed.

“Is it a move to re-invent the wheel? To bring back the Public Service Act of 1971, to muzzle everybody from speaking?” Robinson asked, at the Union’s headquarters at Mckies Hill.

“We don’t want to revisit the days under Milton Cato, when there were several letters written: to him as Premier, to the Labour Commissioner, to the Minister of Education, and one of the issues was repealing the 1971 Public Service Act.”

The law to which Robinson referred was Item 3(b) of Act 16 of 1971, the Public Officers (Conditions of Employment) Act, which said: “No public officer may contribute to, whether anonymously or otherwise, or publish in any newspaper, magazine etc in St Vincent or elsewhere, anything which may reasonably be regarded as information or expression of opinion on any matter of a political or administrative nature.”

That law was repealed by the Unity Labour Party administration of Dr Ralph Gonsalves, with Act 24 of 2005.

Robinson posed a series of questions, which he said must be answered, in order to justify Sam’s May 17 dismissal from the post of headteacher of the South Rivers Methodist School.

Sam, who had taught for over 30 years, was also relieved of his assignment at the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO).

Sam’s dismissal came after a tribunal found him guilty under Section 3.27 of the Civil Service Orders, when he criticized NEMO in a letter published in SEARCHLIGHT on July 24, 2012.

Section 3.27 of the Civil Service Orders states that “An officer will be liable to disciplinary action for any misconduct including general misconduct to the prejudice of discipline or the proper administration of Government business and contravention of specific rules and regulations.”

“We need to find out which specific law did brother Otto Sam violate…. Because his letter of dismissal speaks to the issue of ‘acting in contrary to the law,’ so we want to know what is that law?

“Because if you find a man guilty, you have to bring the evidence, and you must have a point of reference, and you must refer to the particular law, because here the brother was suspended on half-pay and now he has been dismissed and you dismiss him from his post as principal of the school, so we want to know which law he broke as principal of the school, and secondly, we want to know which law he broke as part of his assignment at NEMO.

“The letter also speaks to the issue of disloyalty, and so the same questions must be asked,” Robinson continued.

“Has the brother been disloyal as principal of the South Rivers Methodist School? Where is the evidence for this, having served for 30 years as a teacher?

“Is there anything on the files of brother Otto Sam to say that he has been disloyal as a principal, and in the same vein being disloyal as part of his assignment?

“What is his job description at NEMO? These are questions we need to ask.”

Robinson stressed that Sam, like any other member of the public, has the right to air his opinion in public, as long as he is not slandering or defaming anyone in the process.

He said that the former Union president was within his rights when he published the letter that placed him in hot water with top officials at NEMO, the Ministry of National Security, and the Public Service Commission.

Robinson also noted that Sam’s dismissal has far-reaching effects, and the Union intends to stand with its member to the end.

“If he says that NEMO is not having meetings, and his concerns are not being addressed, do you dismiss a person because of that?

“If something is affecting you, you should be able to express yourself in the right way without defaming anybody, so we think that as a union that the brother must be given a fair chance to defend himself in a court of law and then justice.

“We also need to look at implications, because this is not the end of this matter.

“If you are found guilty of misconduct in public office, that’s clear ground under the law from having your pension… this means that all his pension benefits would be removed.

“So, as a union we are saying that we think that justice must be served, and under the constitution there is a court of law that must be considered. This is not the end of this matter.

“If we allow this to go unsound, it means we have set a precedent that nobody can speak.

“You cannot have a society where people cannot criticize in a constructive way, and ask questions, and the diversity is helpful for the dynamics for nation building,” Robinson said.